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309 pages, Hardcover
First published May 3, 2018
“You were smart,” my father says, pressing his fingertips into my shoulder blades. “You got in early. If Muirgen were not my daughter, perhaps I would have chosen her for myself.”
“Why would I be offended? Being called fat is not an insult, little mermaid. It is as meaningless as being called thin. They are just descriptions. It is your father who has deemed it to be a negative word, and a negative state of being.” She looks down at herself with obvious pleasure. “I like my body. And while I value my own opinion over those of men, it might surprise you to know that some prefer a woman of more plentiful flesh. It is nothing to be ashamed of –we all have our preferences –but they have been forced to feel ashamed even so.”
Maids have been told that being slim is as important as being beautiful, as necessary as being obedient, as desirable as remaining quiet. We must stay thin or we will die sad and alone, spin-maids of the kingdom, cast to the Outerlands because we are a drain on the palace resources. Such maids are neither mothers nor sirens and therefore are of no use to anyone.
They estimate the beauty of each passing girl, weighing it up with their friends. Listing pros and cons as if it is their decision to make, that the girls’ beauty will be determined by their opinions rather than objective fact, because they are men and a man’s word is final. The girls, knowing the men are watching them but pretending to be unaware, performing a calculated innocence they have been told they must possess.
No one is interested in me, tucked away in this corner, so I am free to study them closely. Drinking, dancing. Kissing. Couples going downstairs, the girls pretending to be reluctant. “I don’t usually do this,” they say, the boys urging them to: “Come on, baby.” When they reappear, the girls are flushed, the boys buttoning up shirts with an exaggerated emphasis, looking around to see who has noticed them.
“Grace,” he says, walking over to me. “I didn’t notice you there. Are you having a nice time?” He takes a glass from a passing waiter, but doesn’t thank him. He rarely thanks the staff, I’ve observed. All the little things that I have ignored about this man, in order to make the narrative of true love and destiny fit. I tried to make him as perfect as I needed him to be.
Rupert rolls his eyes. He has a half-empty bottle of champagne in one hand, the other around the waist of a barely conscious girl. Her hair is covering her face, her skirt so short that I can see her black lace underwear. He turns to the people behind us. “Do you mind that I’ve joined my good mate George here, or would you rather be fucking bastards and insist I go to the back?” The two girls nervously murmur, it’s fine, don’t worry about it, Rupert. Not a problem.
“See?” Rupert says to George. He swigs from the bottle, the girl slipping from his grip like a rag doll. She doesn’t move as she hits the ground, her legs akimbo, showing her secrets to the world. No one goes to help her.
“What a slut,” I hear someone say. “And what is she wearing?”
“Oops,” Rupert laughs as he looks down at her. “Someone has had too much to drink, haven’t you, darling?” He drags the girl up, her head lolling on her shoulders. “Cordelia here and I are going to have a very fun night.”
“That girl is comatose,” George says. “You can’t possibly—”
Spring breaks slowly that year, spilling light through the water. The eggs hatch, the next generation of mer-babies unfurling themselves in a new world. There are more girls born this year than ever before. I want to tell them to be careful. I want to tell them to swim away at first light. I want to hold a pillow over their mewling faces and bury their last breath inside their mouths. They would be safe then, safe from men who watch them all the time. Men who come to your bedroom every night, demanding you pay the toll for their silence.
And then they blame us, as men have always blamed women, for prompting their lust, for fuelling their insatiable greed for something they cannot have.
I’m beginning to wonder that if, when we call a woman crazy, we should take a look at the man by her side, and guess at what he has done to drive her to insanity.
Something hardens inside me, and I allow it to happen. Nay, I welcome it. I will be hard. I will be made of ice.
They were attracted to each other, certainly, and like so many before them they mistook their lust for love.
“There was no one there to hear them scream 'no'. Or maybe there was; but that 'no' wasn’t deemed worthy of being heard. Maybe they heard it and they didn’t care. A woman’s 'no' can so easily be turned into a 'yes' by men who do not want to listen.”This book is a reminder and a portrayal of every ounce of feminism we need in our lives. This does not stray too far from its theme as to point fingers to who the victim and the suspects are; it simply narrates the crucial bitter truths of misogyny in all its facets. This retelling encapsulates fundamental lessons in our every day lives that we had acknowledged yet had not fully understood and applied. It is funny how beneath that colorful and innocent cover lies a dark trail of thorns and tears. I have certain problems with the writing sometimes, but to be honest, I think this book fairly deserves a 5-star rating because of the significant points it had delivered effectively. This is one retelling I would never forget.
“We are women. And women are warriors, after all.”